Europe / Travel

What to do and see in Istanbul

Visiting Turkey has been on our list for quite some time now. Istanbul is a vibrant city bustling with things to do and see. Did you know that it straddles two different continents? Istanbul straddles the Bosporus strait, a waterway that serves as a geographic border between Europe and Asia. The Turkish city of nearly 15 million residents lies in both continents. You can walk across the bridge and be standing in Asia! As Americans, we were pretty mind blown by that fact considering how hard it is to cross continent boarders on our side of the world. That’s the thing about living in Europe. It’s just so easy to see so many new countries and cultures!

Lets get to the real reason why you are here!

Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops! You can imagine how easy it is to get lost in this place and our advice to you is to do exactly that. Wander through the rows of shops until you’ve had enough but don’t leave the market without getting some Turkish Delight and Baklava!


The Hagia Sophia is an enormous architectural marvel in Istanbul, Turkey, that was originally built as a Christian basilica nearly 1,500 years ago. It’s likely to first thing you see when googling image searching Istanbul. Similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Parthenon in Athens, the Hagia Sophia is a long-enduring symbol of the the city.

“The Hagia Sophia anchors the Old City of Istanbul and has served for centuries as a landmark for both Orthodox Christians and Muslims, as its significance has shifted with that of the dominant culture in the Turkish city.” – history.com

You can buy tickets the day of or buy them in advance online. We ALWAYS advise the online purchase option as usually you can guarantee some sort of fast track option. During the busy tourist months the lines can get long so try to go early (closer to opening time) to avoid the tour groups. In our opinion this building is best seen from above! There are a number of cafes in the area that offer a roof top view! We popped into the Seven Hills Restaurant for a snack and some photos.

The Blue Mosque

Unfortunately for us, The Blue Mosque was under refurbishment during our visit so it was difficult for us to see most of the exterior. Hence our lack of pictures (#facepalm). But it’s still worth a visit! Make sure to see the inside as well and keep in mind that women will need to cover up in a head scarf and men will not be allowed in if wearing shorts.

It was constructed between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. Its Külliye contains Ahmed’s tomb, a madrasah and a hospice. Hand-painted blue tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls, and at night the mosque is lit up in blue as lights that frame the mosque’s five main domes, six minarets and eight secondary domes. It’s also conveniently located across the way from the Hagia Sophia!

Süleymaniye Mosque

As you can see we had a gloomy day while playing tourist in the city but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the multitude of Mosque’s in Istanbul. The mosque is located at the highest end of the city and was designed to glorify the Sultan Suleyman. Construction of the mosque began before 1550 and was nearly completed in 1557.

The mosque itself is quite large and also offers a great view of the city below!

Spice Bazaar

Similar to the Grand Bazaar, this place was nuts. Although not as large as the Grand Bazaar, it was equally as busy with everyone escaping the rain. Rows of spice shops, specialty teas stands, and plenty of people offering us samples. The Spice Market is definitely not to be missed but be prepared for a busy hour of wandering.

Topaki Palace

It was built between 1466 and 1478 by the sultan Mehmet II. The palace was the political center of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries, until they built Dolmabahce Palace by the waterside.

The palace was opened to the public as a museum in 1924 by the order of Ataturk. Some of the exhibition halls are closed for restorations but still the visit of the palace would take a half day or a few hours depending on your pace. Keep in mind that in some of the exhibition halls you cannot take any photographs, such as the Treasury, Sultans’ costumes, and the Holly Relics.


Balat is one of the oldest and most colorful districts of Istanbul. It feels like an entirely new city and you forget for a moment your in Istanbul.

The district is genuinely hidden away a little bit, but once you step inside Balat, it almost feels like a mini San Fran. These colorful homes are mostly over 50-years-old, and in some cases are up to 200-years-old. These historic wooden homes are amongst the most photographed buildings in the city, and given its popularity many of these streets now houses cafés and restaurants.

You won’t find any big name brands here, but make sure to pop into some of the stores and pick up some souvenirs you won’t find anywhere else.

We loved our time in Istanbul! Stay tuned for our guide to seeing the famous hot air balloons in Cappadocia!


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